Interest in Politics Takes YSU Grad Gomez to NBC

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – Henry Gomez’s interest in politics goes back to his youth, when he would watch then-U.S. Rep. James A. Traficant Jr. on his weekly Sunday morning program.

That early interest has taken him to where he is today at NBC News. There he is a senior political reporter, primarily for digital. “It was just something that captured my interest at a young age,” he says.

Gomez will be the keynote speaker at the annual meeting and dinner of the Youngstown Press Club, scheduled for April 26 at Stambaugh Auditorium. He will speak on “How Youngstown Prepared Me for a Career in Political Journalism.”

Born too late to witness the steel heydays or Youngstown as other than a waning manufacturing base, the city lacked a “definable industry,” Gomez says. He latched onto politics, as well as political figures like Traficant and politically adjacent figures like local labor leader Al Alli. Alli was a UAW labor leader in Lordstown.

“Who is this angry man yelling at the TV screen?” Gomez asked his father as he watched Traficant on “Washington Update.”

After his graduation from Boardman High School, Gomez attended Youngstown State University, originally intending to “go to law school or become a political operative or something like that.”

At YSU, Gomez took an introductory newswriting class taught by Alyssa Briggs, a former local newspaper reporter and director of the university’s journalism program. Gomez struck her as “innately curious,” she says.

“He’s the kind of student that professors both love and dread because they ask so many good questions,” Briggs says. “He really wanted to understand things in different and complete ways.” He also saw journalism as a way to improve people’s lives and to give them the information they needed to make decisions.

Subsequently, Briggs helped Gomez, who says he remained skeptical about entering journalism and leaned toward political science, to get a job at the Tribune Chronicle in Warren where he worked nights as a copy editor.

It was a position he was “not even remotely qualified for at the time,” he says, but it served as a “crash education in journalism.

“The more I got into it, it felt right,” he says.

While at the Tribune Chronicle, he began getting reporting assignments. That included participating in coverage of the corruption trial of the figure that helped to spur his interest in politics, Traficant. Although not its lead reporter, he took in a couple of days of the trial and wrote some enterprise pieces.   

“It was such a cool experience for somebody like me,” he says.

Gomez’s career eventually would take him to The Plain Dealer in Cleveland, where he wrote stories that exposed corruption in Cuyahoga County government, which led to county voters approving a new form of government.

“I grew up reading those stories in Mahoning County. So getting to do them in Cuyahoga County was rewarding,” he says. 

He went on to become that paper’s chief political reporter before moving to BuzzFeed News. 

Briggs remembers being contacted by one of Gomez’s Plain Dealer editors, who was impressed with his ability to produce well-written stories that “truly mattered” to readers. “This editor called me completely out of the blue to thank me for Henry and to ask if we had any more like him,” she says.  

In February 2021, Gomez joined NBC to cover national politics from the Midwest, mainly for the network’s digital platform but occasionally appearing on television. In addition to Ohio, he covers stories in Michigan and Pennsylvania. Last year, he followed the U.S. Senate race between author and venture capitalist J.D. Vance, a Republican, and then-U.S. Rep. Tim Ryan, a Democrat who had represented Mahoning Valley communities for two decades.

He is gearing up for the 2024 presidential election, including coverage of Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, who is widely expected to announce a run, and former President Donald Trump, who already has.

His recent stories have included an exploration of DeSantis’ connection to the Mahoning Valley – his parents met in Youngstown, where his father was taking classes at YSU, and his mother was working toward a nursing certificate – and Democratic U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown’s upcoming re-election bid in a state that Trump won by eight points in 2020.

“The Ohio [U.S.] Senate race will be something that I focus on pretty closely,” he says.

Gomez, who lives outside Cleveland, has watched the political shift in the region where he grew up from one that was staunchly Democratic to increasingly Republican over the past decade and longer.

That shift might be best reflected by Vance’s victory over Ryan in Mahoning and Trumbull counties, both one-time Democratic strongholds that Ryan had represented in Congress but where his margins of victory had ebbed in recent election cycles.

When Trump won in 2016, Ohio, in places like the two counties, as well as further south, “had been slipping away from the Democrats,” according to Gomez.

“It was a working-class thing,” he says. “These politicians were becoming out of touch with a part of the country that they used to do quite well with.”

Then along came Trump, someone who had become familiar to people from his television series, “The Apprentice,” and who tapped “into frustrations that people had about the loss of jobs” and trade arrangements that made it easier for companies to do business in Mexico and elsewhere.

“And he had some emotion and swagger that I think people in the Valley responded to – in a way they didn’t with Hillary Clinton,” he says.

“People have overused this comparison, but he was similar to Traficant, and I think he reminded people of Traficant.”

Realignments such as is happening in the Mahoning Valley can be generational and depend on external forces, he says.

Ryan ran the kind of campaign that Democrats said they should be running to win back the voters they lost in recent elections. He lost, however, to Vance by roughly the same margin that Clinton and Joe Biden lost to Trump.

“Who can the Democrats run for governor in 2026 that can do better than what Tim Ryan did in 2022?” he asks rhetorically. Next year will be a “really big test” for Democrats, when Brown, “the gold standard for Democrats,” faces re-election.     

Gomez enjoys covering the political campaigns up close and getting to travel with the campaigns to the early voting states, he says.

The former print journalist describes himself as concerned about the consolidation taking place in the newspaper industry. The newspapers he worked for “have all gotten smaller and are being asked to do more with less,” he says.

Gomez serves on the board of Signal Ohio, formerly known as the Ohio Local News Initiative, which last year launched Signal Cleveland, a nonprofit newsroom. 

“There needs to be a reevaluation of how news is gathered and presented,” he says.

As to his own future, Gomez says he typically decides at the end of each presidential cycle whether he wants to do another – a decision he makes with his wife, with whom he has a 5-year-old.

He has had opportunities to do other things but says he has “the face” for radio, Facebook or print.

“I feel really lucky that I get to do something that indulges my personal interests,” he says.

Tickets for the Youngstown Press Club dinner are $50 per person. Reservations are due by April 11 and can be made at the club’s website.

Copyright 2024 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.